Having entered the 2004 Advent season, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) set sights on a vigorous $150 million goal for their annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
Last year the 8 million-member denomination gathered a record $136,204,648 from its 40,000-plus churches, marking a whopping $21.2 million rise over the year before, Baptist Press reported.
According to the International Mission Board (IMB) president Jerry Rankin, last years impressive response is proof that Southern Baptists are a mission-minded people. Rankin also noted the generous offerings of Southern Baptist churches of all sizes.
"We are grateful for the impressive offerings of many of our larger churches," Rankin said to the SBCs Baptist Press. "But it was an emotional experience to receive testimonies from many smaller congregations that went above and beyond what they had ever given before or would envision being a possibility."
Billy Hoffman, the IMBs director of development agreed, saying the heart and not the size of the church is what matters most.
"It's unbelievable," said Hoffman. "It's not about being a big church, but it's about churches getting a passion for missions and giving to missions.
"Jesus said, 'Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,'" he added. "These churches have a true heart for missions. We are thankful to Southern Baptists for partnering with us to take Christ to the ends of the earth -- we could not do it without them."
In recognizing the churches who gave abundantly for missions, the SBC generated two top 100 lists: those who gave the most and those who have the most per capita. 189 churches made it on the top lists; 11 of them were on both lists. These top churches alone gave 12.2 percent of the offerings total amount, $15.3 million.
Meanwhile, Hoffman explained that some 10,000 Southern Baptist churches did not participate in the offering. Hoffman said he hopes the smaller churches that gave from what little they had, can set an example for those who fear they have too little to offer.
"These smaller churches helped release missionaries so they could go to the field," said Hoffman, to BP. "They can contact friends at other churches and say, 'Our church made a difference, so can yours.'"
"Southern Baptist missions is faith missions," Hoffman said. "We trust God will speak to the hearts of Southern Baptists to sacrifice and give generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering."
The top 100 churches in each field were thanked for their dedication to international missions and were each given a medallion for 2003; those who made the top 100 lists for the first time were given a plaque in addition to the medallion.
The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is one of a handful of designated contributions within the SBC. Other offerings include the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions and the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund.
The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is specifically used to support the tens of thousands of SBC missionaries serving abroad.
According to Rankin, the financial support will help more missionaries reach a lost world and let those on the field continue their service.
"We have been able to remove restrictions on missionary appointments, and currently more than 3,000 candidates are in the appointment process," Rankin said. "We must sustain last year's level of generous and sacrificial giving to the Lottie Moon Offering that those being called out of our churches can be obedient to go."